Jalan Othman market closure deals fresh blow to PJ Old Town hawkers still reeling from MCO

Petaling Jaya City Council officers cordon off the Jalan Othman wet market from the public to make way for sanitisation work April 27, 2020. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Petaling Jaya City Council officers cordon off the Jalan Othman wet market from the public to make way for sanitisation work April 27, 2020. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

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PETALING JAYA, April 29 ― Forty days after the movement control order (MCO) was enforced to contain the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), a PJ Old Town hawker finally decided to resume business after the government extended the lockdown yet again.

But just as she was preparing to reopen her char kuey teow stall, Wong Poh Choh, 59, received news that the Jalan Othman wet market ― commonly called the PJ Old Town market ― was ordered shut after a trader there tested positive for Covid-19.

“Whatever we have now ― the shrimps and cockles ― the market traders managed to send it to us before the market was told to shut for at least five days,” said Wong when met at the coffee shop where she and her husband, How Chua Meng, 63, run their stall in the evenings.

Once their supply runs out, Wong said they will have to source for fresh seafood and other produce elsewhere while waiting for the market to reopen.

“That’s the nearest for us, otherwise we will have to ask our friends to help us source from other areas in Petaling Jaya,” she said.

Unlike other hawkers who have stayed open, Wong said they initially did not as she and her husband were within the age band considered to be at higher risk from Covid-19, but decided to reopen when the MCO was extended for a third time to May 12.

Wong said they could no longer bear being idle at home without anything to do except sleeping and eating.

“For us, running the stall is our main chore of the day and if we don’t do this, I feel that we might even fall sick from depression as a result of being cooped up at home for too long.

“We have been doing this for more than 40 years, and suddenly if we don’t do anything, we definitely feel uneasy,” she said.

Although concerned about the market trader contracting Covid-19, Wong said they were not overly worried as the market was some distance away from her stall.

The Jalan Othman wet market was sealed off early Monday morning after a 51-year-old trader tested positive for Covid-19 on April 24. The trader had reportedly visited the Kuala Lumpur wholesale market otherwise known as the Selayang wholesale market to obtain supplies.

The wife of the trader was also reported to have contracted the virus on Monday.

Petaling District Officer Johary Anuar has since urged members of the public who had been in contact with the trader between April 5 and 18 to be tested for Covid-19.

While Wong is thankful to her regulars for still patronising her stall, she expected the news of the traders’ infections to keep casual patrons away.

“This is the first case that we have heard of in this area. Definitely people will be afraid to swing by this area for food,” said Wong.

She also said that many other popular restaurants in the area have been affected by the MCO, including the popular Heng Kee Bak Kut Teh restaurant and the PJ Old Town hawker centre that houses local favourites including Seong Kee Hakka Yong Tou Foo, Kie Kee Chicken Rice and Kavitha Banana Leaf Rice.

The PJ Old Town hawker centre, or popularly known as Taman Selera PJ, is now closed due to the MCO.

“They are very strict and we are expected to lock up the premise by 8pm. That means we have to stop orders by 7pm to allow us some time to clean up.

“These short operating hours have definitely affected our business, but we are hopeful that things will pick up,” she said.

Another hawker Alex Ng, who sells braised duck rice, said that since the MCO was enforced, the prices of poultry and other fresh produce have gone up.

“This was something that I expected to happen with supplies thinning and with markets being shut due to the infection.

“But I have kept the price of my duck rice the same as before, at RM8.

“All these are loyal customers, we try to take care of our regulars,” said Ng when met at the hawker centre.

Ng said his customers have not been spooked by the confirmed Covid-19 infection at the market as the hawker centre was a distance away.

He also said he was not severely affected by the closure as he did not depend on the market for supplies.

“I have everything done in OUG before I transport the braised duck and roast chicken here,” he explained, referring to the township situated off the Old Klang Road.

When asked what his plans were for when the MCO is lifted, however, Ng said he must review his operations as he could no longer depend on dine-in patrons to sustain his stall.

Food outlets are only permitted to cater to takeaway and delivery orders under the MCO, but dine-in patrons might not return even after the order is lifted, as health authorities continue to stress the importance of social distancing to contain Covid-19, with a vaccine or cure remaining elusive.

“I can’t opt for delivery as the fee would be too high to charge on customers.

“But I will definitely need to think about how we can either deliver ourselves or pre-order,” he added.

Prior to the closure of the PJ Old Town market, the Taman Megah wet market was also shut temporarily after a trader similarly tested positive for the coronavirus last Saturday.

Both traders from the PJ Old Town and Taman Megah markets were linked to the Kuala Lumpur wholesale market cluster.

After 28 cases were reported at the Kuala Lumpur wholesale market, the housing areas surrounding the wholesale market have been placed under lockdown to enable screening and swab tests.

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